War Diary of AA Laporte Payne May 1918
Brigade Diary, Personal Diary, Operation Orders, Note Books, Memoranda
R.P. May 4 1918.
Two Boche planes came down yesterday, one in flames. We have great fun shooting at planes with machine guns when they come over the battery, but the bullets are apt to come down again, and the would be biter gets bitten, or our own men in adjacent battery positions.
I have a cosy little dug-out all to myself. It was made by our wheeler. The roof is of German corrugated iron, which is thicker than ours. In time I may get some sand-bags and timber to go on top. There is actually a wooden floor, but as it is situated in an old and narrow Boche trench, the approach is not ideal in wet weather. I generally land on the floor of the entrance together with an avalanche of slimy mud. As I use gum boots a great deal I am rarely on my feet as the mud is much worse that ice. The mess is stronger. It is made of rails and sleepers from the railway near by, corrugated iron, and mud. The kitchen is a work of architecture, and the fittings of art. I should like some of England’s fastidious cooks to see our improved clay oven, which turns out quite good roast meat.
May 4, 1918
We have just been shooting at unwelcome aeroplanes with rifles and machine guns, but the bullets and pieces of A.A. shell have an aptitude of returning to earth again, and our laudable intentions very often cause unexpected results, or, I should say unfortunate results. And we do not seem to do much good either, for we never get anywhere near the planes. I tested with tracer bullets one day.
I see Sydney Swann has been wounded. He only came out here in November last, so he has not been long. I am afraid Vyvyan Pearse has been having a bad time.
Life is as usual. We carry on the everlasting bombardment. It must take an enormous amount of firing to kill one Boche. What a lot of expensive ammunition is wasted. I am quite convinced that our firing programme is not made with sufficient intelligence and knowledge. They are made for us by the staff who never go forward to see the ground. I am amazed at some of the targets we are given to fire at. One day I had to fire into an open field in broad daylight, where no trenches or other field works were at all, just a blank field. That did no earthly good.
For us night firing is the most troublesome and annoying. From what the prisoners say the Boche suffer in the same way.
My dug out is as cosy as possible under the circumstances. The wheeler made it for me. The roof is of German corrugated iron, much thicker than ours, and I hope to get timber and sandbags to put on top so at least to keep out splinters and the pestilential gas shell. There is even a wooden floor and a window, though small. It is about 8 feet by 6 feet, and is situated in an old Boche trench. The entrance is not too good, as I am usually precipitated headlong to land on the floor in an avalanche of slimy mud which circles round the door. However it is fairly dry inside. Our mess is made of railway sleepers from the line nearby, old iron and mud. The kitchen is a masterpiece. I should like some of our fastidious servants at home to see it, and the mud oven, which can only emit smoke at night. Yet the mess cook can turn out quite a fair meal, even good roast meat, so far as ration meat can be good. It is a triumph of skill over matter and mud. Mud in not matter. It is endued with an evil spirit.
We are well camouflaged, and you could not tell that six guns and sixty men had their habitation there unless you were very close, or unless you possessed an aeroplane photograph, which shews up in a ghastly way the tracks made by the feet of men, and the six dark and regular blobs which proclaims the position of guns. We shout ourselves hoarse trying to keep people away from making a bee line to the place. I fear it is all useless as it is almost impossible to hide the guns from the air. No doubt the Boche know all about us.
The weather is improving. It is about time. The mud has invaded everything.
May 10 1918
So far we have only had one fine day, and that was yesterday. One fine day does not seem much for spring to produce. As war eats time summer will be here soon, and we ought then to have a bit of sunshine…
The mail came up under sad circumstances…
Last night we fired a large number of shells, and it must have annoyed the Boche, for he replied vigorously each time we opened fire, luckily not on us.
At present I am in a deep damp dug-out with two entrances which cause a nasty draught. A heavy gun just behind us fires continuously, and each time it does so it blows the candle out, or the acetylene lamp. It has been relit countless times by a patient subaltern. As he is just out from England he is trying to be considerate, poor devil.
May 19 1918
I am at present on night duty, and have to fire the battery every half hour with some extras thrown in. In these latter days an officer has to be on the telephone all night, and I am relieving two weary subalterns who have been on night duty most nights.
I believe today is Whit Sunday, but I am not sure. The wilderness here is covered with dandelions run to seed, so it shews that spring is somewhere about, and fevered imagination conjures up visions of England in spring.
But the weather is at present perfectly lovely, and I am going about in my shirt sleeves. The sun had been with us for at least three days, and rain is overdue. It is a bit misty, which hinders observation somewhat, but that is not a great evil.
Leave is further off than ever, and certainly not before the next great Boche attack takes place, which is expected daily. He should hurry up, or he will be too late. It is sure to rain hard in June.
Our dug-out drips dirty water, and is infested with black beetles and rats. They are only what Shipley might call “The Minor Horrors of War”.
For the past fortnight I have been in command of “C” Battery, whose Major has been away ill, but he has returned now. So I am back at “A” Battery again. It was rather a nuisance as I do not like picking up the threads of another man’s job. However I had no choice, as orders are orders.
The day before yesterday I spent with the Infantry as Liaison Officer, and yesterday I spent the day up in the clouds, literally, up in a sausage balloon for observation work. It is quite interesting and the country side looks most curious from four thousand feet up in a basket. My companion was a Flying Corps Officer, who frightened me with horrible details, e.g. if the gauge reads 70 the balloon would burst, and if a Boche plane came over I was to throw myself over the side head first attached to a closed parachute! However we landed safely about 6.30 p.m. and stayed for a cheery dinner with the Wing Officers, and went for a mad drive in a tender afterwards.
To day I have been observing from our O.P., registering the guns for various shows, which do not appear in the official communiqués, which usually state “All quiet on the Western Front”. That is of course not so.
There have been some changes in the Brigade lately. Poor old Bell has been badly wounded. I am distressed at losing him. Amour has his job, and is a captain at last, and about time too. Our senior has been made a captain in another battery, and we have two new subalterns.
I have just finished firing until 2 a.m. There are a large number of Very lights and Flaming Onions about tonight. The latter are a species of Boche incendiary anti-aircraft quick firing shells. Both sides are very restless tonight, especially the Boche. I wonder why. Although it is very dark there are several planes up. A boche machine gun is making a dismal rattle ahead, while behind a 6 inch Mark VII gun, quite close, fairly takes one’s breath away when it fires, which it does very frequently. Here besides me there are such instruments of torture as field telephones and such evil spirits as telephonists who disturb even a moment’s slumber with a whispered “You are wanted on the phone, Sir.”
However as Marcus Aurelius says “Where a man can live, there he can live well”; but it is a hard saying.
R.P. May 26, 1918.
It is dull and heavy here as regards the weather, but the war is more lively. We still await the Hun. I do wish he would buck up and get it over. It is like waiting in a dentist’s room to have a tooth out, only more so. We always anticipate the worst. Realisation may not be so bad. I wonder what Ludendorff will do this time. We shall see soon no doubt. I expect he will have a shock.
The Major is at present at the wagon line sick, so I am at present in command at the guns again. He always goes sick when there is any work to be done. I do not get the honour and glory, if there is any, which there never is. But I like the work with the guns much better, as it is much more exciting than at the wagon lines, where one only gets shelled and can never retaliate. Besides there is no time here to think and worry and get glum and downhearted.
Au revoir. Things will be settled soon, one way or another.
May 26 1918.
British Expeditionary Force.
The raid in London did not disturb you much, I hope. It seems to have caused a great sensation according, to the papers.
The weather is heavy and dull here, but there is plenty of excitement. We continue to fire nearly all day and night, and becomes monotonous. So far we have been lucky.
We still await the expected Boche attack. I do wish he would buck up, and get it over. It is something like waiting in the dentist’s room to have a tooth out. Such things are always worse in anticipation. It will be interesting to see what he can do this time. By the time you get this we shall probably know.
Telephone calls again, and bang goes another two hundred rounds.
At present I an in charge at the gun line. The Major is at the wagon line sick. Three subalterns are away, one sick and two on other jobs. So I am having a jolly time!
It gets light very early now. We have to “stand to” for about an hour at dawn each morning. It is often boring, but at times the sunrise is a compensation.
This is a curious existence. We have with us practically nothing except what we wear. There are no little luxuries, to which we are usually accustomed in the line. No kit, gramophone or mess furniture; there are no frills now. We may have to move at a second’s notice. We do without in case our possessions should fall into the hands of the Philistines. We wait expectantly for the attack. The uncertainty is rather trying. It is similar to the feeling before a race at Henley, but not in degree. However life is tolerable, and we are enjoying it as much as we can, especially as the spring is now here.
FIELD SERVICE POST CARD.
I have been admitted into hospital and am going on well.
Wounded and hope to be discharged soon.
I am being sent down to the base.
Letter follows at first opportunity.
May 29th 1918.